Ladies and Gentlemen,
Concern for the well-being of families dates back to the earliest days of the United Nations. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims the family to be the “natural and fundamental group unit of society… entitled to protection by society and the State”. Our long-standing work for children, for the advancement of women, for health, literacy and social integration, reflects an enduring, system-wide commitment to families.
The International Year of the Family was meant to intensify this focus, and to promote greater awareness of what families contribute to economic development and social progress in societies all over the world. And indeed, the Year's most far-reaching achievement was to raise the profile of the “family perspective”, which had never received attention commensurate with its importance. Today we can note with satisfaction that the family dimension is increasingly reflected in national development policies and programmes, as well as in the activities of the United Nations system.
This anniversary is an opportunity to reaffirm the importance and centrality of the family. But it should also incite us to do more to address the challenges that families face.
Families take many different forms. The situation of families varies from country to country, and within countries. But all confront very serious pressures.
The AIDS epidemic, for example, is creating more and more orphans and imposing new burdens on caregivers such as grandparents. Migration, which can generate opportunities, can also increase vulnerability and keep families separated for extended periods of time. And in many countries efforts to reconcile work and family life are proving very difficult.
Family structures continue to change. Where once people lived in extended families, today they live increasingly in nuclear families. Decreasing fertility rates, increasing life expectancy, delayed marriage and growing numbers of people living alone contribute to smaller families. Traditional gender roles continue to evolve, as more women work outside the home and more men contribute to the work within it.
These trends and phenomena are related, and in some cases mutually reinforcing. They are also being spurred on by global integration.
In spite of strains and adversity, families are proving resilient, often in remarkable ways. They are doing their best to pull together, and to continue serving as a source of strength and inspiration for their members. But they need help.
Governments need to do more to help families adapt and thrive, so that they can, in turn, fulfil their social, cultural and economic roles. One major challenge is to integrate family concerns with broader development and poverty eradication efforts. We must not forget that the family is a vital partner in efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and the many other objectives set by the international community during the last decade.
Strong and healthy family structures are essential for human well being as well. Families are often our first line of support. Policies and programmes must recognize such contributions. The United Nations, for its part, will continue to draw attention to family issues, and to support Governments and civil society in their efforts to address them.
Thank you very much.